When I was young, my first attempt at ‘real’ cooking was memorable, but for all the wrong reasons. Oh yes, of course I could fry bacon and eggs, make milkshakes and grill toasted cheese and ham, but I had never tried the real deal – meat, vegetables and a starch. On a particular day when my parents had to attend meetings, I decided to surprise them with a home-cooked meal upon their return. I grabbed a frozen leg of lamb out of the freezer, turned the oven to 220C and shoved the meat on a baking tray into the oven. I knew that my mother used 180C to do roast, but I reckoned that frozen meat would need a little extra help as it still had to thaw. I peeled the potatoes, washed the vegetables and put them on the stove to cook. I then went outside to play.

The first sign that dinner was almost ready was a steady stream of smoke emitting from the kitchen window. The second sign was the smell – a bitter aroma that awoke the neighbours from their Sunday siesta. Clearly, something was wrong. I fought my way into a smoky kitchen and turned the oven and stove off. Some restaurants, when serving steak, have little flags stuck into the grilled meat indicating the patron’s preference, e.g. ‘medium rare’, or ‘well done’. My roast came out with ‘completely dead’ on a white surrender flag! Needless to say, the meat was inedible – it was too bitter, shrunk to a quarter of its original size, totally dried out and couldn’t be saved, so my father took us all out to eat that night.

As I recalled this rather eventful Sunday with a little chuckle, it struck me that some companies, too, are overcooked and taste bitter. They are ‘completely dead’ in the following ways:

  1. Totally dried out – there is so much bureaucracy and red tape that exists in the company that disheartens employees when they even think about getting something worthwhile done. They feel disempowered by all the hoops through which they have to jump to get approval for the smallest of things. There seems to be no level of authority or autonomy bestowed.
  2. Bitter to taste – the organisational culture is toxic and political sparring governs behaviour and the way things are done. As such, fear drives the culture and distrust and emotional exhaustion are the result.
  3. Shrunk in size – high levels of staff turnover are experienced and others are looking for other opportunities constantly. Those that can’t leave are exhausted by the extra work that they have to do to pick up the slack left by the resignations.
  4. Can’t be saved – there is nothing that can be done whilst the company is at this low ebb to encourage creativity and innovation. Employees are present at work, but their passion, ideas, giftedness and resilience have been left at home deliberately. They don’t care anymore.
  5. Neglect (I went outside to play) – a lack of authentic leadership presence leaves employees anxious, discontent and even bitter. The prevailing insecurity thus created causes emotional dissonance and fear, inhibiting the potential of teamwork.

Leadership needs to engage effectively, communicate well and extend trust and sincere care to all employees to prevent ‘burning the roast’ and ending up with a company of zombies, robots or no staff at all. Such a company is overcooked and tastes bitter.

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